Is iBooks 2 the Future of Education? Thoughts from a Teacher

Subtitle: iTunes U and You!

I often feel like I am in a strange place as both a computer nerd and a public school high school history teacher. I read sites like The Verge, and keep up with all the goings on in tech, but not only do I talk about the past, I often feel as though I am living in it. Aside from the gradual supplementation of overhead projectors with projectors and SMART Boards, the internet and technology have had relatively little impact on how we teach students. At least when compared to their effect on the rest of our lives.

It is a dream of mine for students to have schools provide kind of device, like a tablet or maybe a netbook, where all of their textbooks, notes, homework assignments (synced to the cloud of course so that their dog could never eat it), and other required materials with them in a compact fashion. I think Apple has taken a step toward fulfilling that dream. That being said, I have clear reservations about the uses of iBooks2 and the new iTunes U app that were announced today.



First with the positives. From what I have seen, it is clear that a textbook in iBook form have huge advantages over their paper counterparts. The level of interactivity, and utility are just awesome. Students would not have to fumble with a cumbersome glossary or index for reference, just long press a word for a definition, or search through the book with a search box. Awesome. The videos and interactive content possible in this medium just make me drool too! Read about the context of a battle, the tactics used, the motivations and results for context. However, instead of reading some strange disjointed description that often are how they are depicted in the textbooks, students can watch a 3d animation of the battle taking place that students can pan in and out, rewind and fast forward, or otherwise manipulate it in a clear visual and tactile way. Imagine Medieval Total War imbedded in your textbook. I just can’t get over how cool that would be! Also, the fact that Apple has released the tools to make these books for free, has immense potential. If I want to give my students another representation of the material, or an interactive study-guide for their test, I can! Heck, take the students to the computer lab, and I they can make a book themselves!



Now for the downsides. The main negative I can think of is that this product is iPad only. I understand that Apple is, and always will be, a company. I also understand that companies have to make money by selling their products. But I have trouble seeing why students can’t access much of the same multimedia and text content on their home computers, which are much more widely available to students and their families than iPads are. As the current marketplace stands then, iBooks are only for those families (or much less likely) the schools that can afford to purchase iPads for their students. Most schools in our country can barely afford twenty outdated and obsolete computers for a computer lab, let alone 2,000 new iPads for every student! Also, Apple claims that the iPad is more durable than a textbook. I have witnessed the hell that these books are put through, and nothing made of glass - guerrilla or otherwise - could take a similar beating. Is the form factor of the iPad more attractive? Most definitely! Does this justify the extra cost? I do not think so.



With the introduction of the new iTunes U app, it also seems like this is a much more viable and attractive solution for an online representation of in class content. Similar solutions exist, such as Blackboard, but this app is much more attractive and useful for students and teachers to share and learn about a subject. However, yet again this is exclusive to the iPad, and this time with even less justification! While I may be mistaken, it appears that this app breaks parody with the materials offered by the iTunes U functionality available on Mac and PC. One would think that you would also have a desktop app available that has similar if not the same functionality. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Also, it would be nice to add a commenting system where students can comment on videos or other course materials do promote more dialogue and provide feedback to the educator.

Am I excited for a future where technology is more ubiquitous and useful in the education system? Hell yes! Has Apple found the solution? In my opinion: not yet.

But, that is just me, what do you all think?